ContentJust Search pageLJF site navigationLeft navigation links
LJF Logo
Research sectionPublications sectionGrants sectionPlain language law sectionJustice Awards sectionNetworks section
Just Search

From officialese to plain English

© Dr George Stern, Consultant lecturer in Linguistics,
Centre for Continuing Education, The Australian National University

There is a great need among public servants, academics and lawyers to use plain English ("Dear Mum" style) rather than high-flown language ("Yes Minister" style), even in official or legal papers. The former is much easier on the reader. In nearly every case it also saves a lot of syllables. Plain English therefore gives the reader less to read for the same amount of information. It is consistent with plain language to use technical terms for technical things — but not to burden your prose with fancy terms for everyday things.

In the left-hand column below, I have compiled a list of nearly two hundred terms that one often sees in official papers. I recommend switching to the terms in the right-hand column.

You needn't worry that getting rid of the left hand items will impoverish the language. This, for two reasons: first, none of the left-hand items has any literary merit; second, there are some 500,000 entries in The Oxford English Dictionary, and the non-use of 200 of them will hardly matter.

Official ("Yes, Minister") language Plain ("Dear Mum") language
a further meetinganother meeting
able tocan
above-mentionedmentioned above
accordinglyso / therefore
adjacent tonext to / near
advice has been received thatmy officers have told me that
advise you that / oflet you know ...
aforementionedmentioned before / mentioned above
all things consideredso / therefore
alter / alterationchange
approximatelyroughly / about
as a consequence ofbecause of
as noted previouslyas I have said (written) above
as soon as practicableas soon as possible
as you would be awareas you know
ascertainfind out / check
assist / assistancehelp
at an early opportunitysoon
at this point in timenow / at present
at your earliest convenienceas soon as possible
attached heretoattached please find
be applicableapplies
be in accordance withaccords with
by virtue ofunder / because of
commencestart / begin
commencementstart / beginning
completionend / finish
comprisemake up
consequentlyso / therefore
considerable amount ofa lot of / many / much
contiguous tonext to / near
converselybut / on the other hand
currentlynow / at present
due tobecause of
e.g.for example / for instance
emanating fromcoming from
embark onstart
et aland others
etc / et ceteraand so on
experienced delaysthere were delays / had delays
facilitateenable / make possible
failed todid not
falls within the responsibility of BloggsBloggs is responsible for
familiarise you withmake you familiar with
for the duration ofduring
for the purpose ofto / for
for your considerationfor your decision / for your information
further developmentsmore developments / new developments
a further meetinganother meeting
further to my letter concerningI am writing again about
furthermoreand / also
henceso / therefore
henceforthfrom now on
hereby / herewithhere / please find
I acknowledge receipt ofthank you for
I am advised thatmy department tells me that
I am directed to advise you thatthe (minister) has asked me to tell you that
I am grateful forthank you for
I appreciate thatI understand that / I know that
I appreciate yourthank you for your
I can confirm that(Leave it out.)
I consider thatI think that / I believe that
I refer to your letter datedthank you for your letter of
I regret the delay / the delay is regrettedI am sorry for the delay
I trust this addresses your concernsI hope this answers your points (questions)
I will be pleased toI will be happy to
I wish to advise that(Leave it out.)
I would appreciate it ifplease / would you please / could you please
I would be grateful ifplease / would you please / could you please
i.e.that is
if so-and-so transpiresif so-and-so happens
in a timely manneras soon as possible
in accordance with section 12under section 12
in conjunction withwith / together with
in consideration offor / because of
in excess ofmore than
in keeping withunder
in order toto
in relation toabout
in respect of / toabout
in situin place
in spite of the fact thatthough / although
in terms ofin
in the course ofduring
in the event ofif
in the majority of casesin most cases
in the vicinity ofnear
in this regard(Leave it out.)
in this respect(Leave it out.)
in totoin total / altogether / all up
in view of the fact thatbecause
inform you of / inform you thatlet you know
inter aliaamong other things / among others
is applicableapplies
is dependent on / upondepends on
is located inis in
it appears to be the case thatit seems that
it is considered thatI think that / I believe that
it is incumbent on youyou should / you must / you need to
it is my considered view thatI think that / I believe that
it should be noted that(Leave it out.)
locatefind / put / place
Messrs A and BMr A and Mr B
negligible amount ofa little / a few
notify you / melet you / me know
notwithstandingdespite / although
occurredhappened / took place
owing tobecause of
per annuma year
pertains tois about
please be advised that(Leave it out.)
please do not hesitate to contact me / Bloggsplease contact (get in touch with) me / Bloggs
predominantlymainly / mostly
previouslast / latest / earlier
prior tobefore
pro temfor the time being
proceeded to (walk / drive)walked / drove (started to walk / drive)
provide you with further informationlet you have / give you more information
provided / providingif
pursuant to clause 12under clause 12
rectifyfix / correct / repair
relating toabout
respond / responseanswer
revealshow / tell
review the matterlook at the matter again
should it be necessaryif necessary
Should you require further information, please  do not hesitate to contact BloggsIf you need more information, please get in touch with Bloggs (Or leave it out.)
should you wish toif you want to / if you like
significant amount ofa lot of / much / many
status quoas is / the existing state
subsequent toAfter
substantial amount ofa lot of / much / many
tacit understandinginformal / unstated / understanding
take the matter up with Bloggscontact Bloggs about the matter
the delay (the mistake) is regrettedI am sorry for the delay (the mistake)
therebybecause of this
thusso / therefore
unable toCannot
undertake to do so-and-sowill (must) do so-and-so
verifycheck / confirm
viathrough / by way of
with a view toto
with due regard for (something)taking (something) into account
with immediate effectstraight away / immediately
with reference toabout
with regard toabout
with respect toabout
you may care toyou might like to
you will be required toyou need to / you should / you must
your letter of the 20th instantyour letter of 20 May

© Dr George Stern, Consultant Lecturer in Linguistics, Centre for Continuing Education, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Ph: (02) 6125 2892, Fax (02) 6125 5938, Email: